by Tulis McCall
National Asian American Theatre Company and The Public Theater’s co-production Out of Time is a presentation of five new monologues, written by Asian American writers and performed by Asian American actors over 60. A great idea. And it could have worked if as much attention were given to the texts themselves. With the exception of the last piece, “Disturbance Specialist”, performed by Natsuko Ohama and written by Sam Chanse, none of the pieces had a raison d’être strong enough to support the effort.
In “My Documentary”, performed by Page Leong and written by Anna Ouyang Moench, the character – named Woman – is telling the story of her final documentary to an unknown interviewer. Early on she says ” ‘So tell me about your background,’ they say, vaguely, and I obligingly launch into it. You want me to do it now, don’t you. Fine, I’ll do it quickly.” She then speaks for roughly 20 minutes. What would have been the slower version I wonder? Leong is a masterful storyteller, but too many minutes with too many detours is too many minutes period.
“Ball In The Air” performed by Mia Katigbak and written by Mia Chung is one of the most challenging monologues I have ever seen. It is the equivilant of patting your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time. Katigbak handles it beautifully. Her performance is seemless. The same cannot be said for the text that jumps back and forth in time and location so abruptly that eventually you give up trying to understand and opt instead for enjoying Katigbak.
“Black Market Caviar” performed by Rita Wolf and written by Jaclyn Backhaus is more of an essay than a monologue. It is a fascinating treatise on a sort of hall of mirrors approach to reproduction. Women possess both the past and the future in their eggs. To whom she is speaking is unclear, and to add to the confusion, Wolf is speaking into a camera up stage left behind a gauzy curtain. We see her on a video monitor. Why? No idea. Wolf takes on the difficult task of monitor acting with all her might, but it is a very difficult endeavor.
“Japanese Folk Song” is performed by Glenn Kubota and written by Naomi Iizuka, He introduces himself to us. “My name is Takehisa. Everybody calls me Taki. You can call me Taki, too.” Following the introduction he tells us he is not the real Taki, but a hologram. He tells the listener the story of his life – his close calls with death, his marriages. Eventually we get that he is talking to his son but not why. His tale ends with mournful Japanese fable that is not connected to anything in particular in spite of Kubota’s best efforts.
In the final monologue, “Disturbance Specialist”, Natsuko Ohama is a writer and guest lecturer who, instead of reading her lecture, becomes sidetracked by the vagaries she has both suffered and created. There are references to incidents we never hear explained because we are her true audience and know everything. (Except that we are not and little help here would have been appreciated). Ohama’s timing is seductive, and she leads us a merry chase without her seeming to notice. The drawback here – and this is the case with all the pieces – is that it is too long. Points are made, repeated, reformed and made again. Even her excellent timing and delivery is not enough to keep us fully engaged.
The up side of all of this is that most all of us are watching actors we have not seen, or noticed, or considered before now. That is a damn shame and one can hope that this production will shine a light on these skilled artists.
As I said, however, the material itself is lacking the maturity, specificity and depth that these performers bring. Each piece was missing a human heart. Each piece was abstract. Each piece had elements of trying to be too clever by half. I am betting that if each of these actors stood up there for five minutes and told their story we would have been rivited. Too bad they didn’t try that.
And, not for nuthin’ but I was taken aback when I noticed that the preshow and entre-act music was all classical string compositions by old white dudes. Was the director trying to make a point? If so what was it? All in all this is a “defeat snatched from the jaws of victory” scenario.
OUT OF TIME – Contributing monologues are by Jaclyn Backhaus, Sam Chanse, Mia Chung, Naomi Iizuka, and Anna Ouyang Moench. Directed by Les Waters.
The cast features Mia Katigbak, Glenn Kubota, Page Leong, Natsuko Ohama, and Rita Wolf.
Scenic design by dots, costume design by Mariko Ohigashi, lighting design by Reza Behjat, sound design by Fabian Obispo, and dramaturgy by Sarah Lunnie. Kasson Marroquin serves as production stage manager and Narissa Agustin as stage manager.
Effective January 21, 2022, until further notice, The Public will require proof of a complete COVID-19 vaccination AND proof of a booster dose (for those eligible in accordance with CDC guidelines) by the date of attendance for access to the facility, theaters, and restaurant. Approved face masks will be required at all times, including while watching a performance, with exceptions for attendees in Joe’s Pub and The Library at The Public, who are actively eating and drinking.
At the Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street though March 13. Tickets HERE
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